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US, Israeli Interests in the Balance as Egypt 'Coup' Label Lingers

'Marathon phone calls' aim to 'coordinate US and Israeli positions on Egyptian crisis'

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

(Photo: Mariam Soliman/cc/flickr)The strategic interests of the U.S. and Israel are on display as the U.S. continues to dodge calling the Egyptian military ousting of President Mohamed Morsi a coup, and Israeli officials mount pressure on the U.S. to not halt its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt.

The White House has avoided using the word "coup," because, as Reuters explained, "calling the military intervention a 'coup'...would trigger legal obstacles to continuing aid payments."

The New York Times' Caucus blog adds that

Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of American aid, behind Israel, since 1979, as a reward and incentive for its peace with the Jewish nation, and the military continues to support that treaty.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeatedly dodged any confirmation that Morsi's overthrow was a coup, saying instead the situation in Egypt was "complex and difficult" and that the Obama administration has no immediate plans to halt aid to Egypt.

I think it would not be in the best interest of the United States to immediately change our assistance programs to Egypt.  We think -- not just I, but we think that it would not be in the best interest of the United States to do that.  We are reviewing our obligations under the law and we will be consulting with Congress about the way forward with regards to, specifically, the assistance package that we provide.

The State Department made similar statements on Monday, saying in a press briefing, "Our focus is on returning stability to the region."

Israel's interests in the U.S. maintaining its hefty aid to the Egyptian military prompted "marathon phone calls" to U.S. officials this weekend, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Tuesday:

Marathon phone calls about the coup took place between Jerusalem and Washington over the weekend. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror spoke with his White House counterpart, Susan Rice.

The senior American official said the talks were aimed at coordinating U.S. and Israeli positions on the Egyptian crisis. During those calls, and in follow-up conversations afterward, the Israelis warned that cutting military aid to Egypt would likely impact negatively on Israel’s security, especially given the possibility of further security deterioration in Sinai.

They also warned that halting the aid could undermine Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt.

Foreign policy analyst Jim Lobe noted similar comments from other pro-Israel voices, including the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal.  Lobe wrote:

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal’s hard-line neo-conservative editorial board stressed Washington had too much at stake to disassociate itself in any way from the military, insisting that “cutting (military aid) off now would be a mistake. Unpopular as America is in Egypt, 1.3 billion dollars in annual military aid buys access with the generals. U.S. support for Cairo is written into the Camp David peace accords with Israel,” according to its lead editorial Friday.

It added that Egyptians “would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet…”

The Guardian reports on the continuing developments in Egypt:

Egypt's military-backed interim presidency moved to implement a speedy transition to civilian rule on Tuesday, appointing economist Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister and the internationally-known opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei as vice-president.

In a tense atmosphere following the killing of 55 supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi and threats of new mass protests by his supporters, the army also warned against political "manoeuvring" at a time of instability and anxiety – apparently to forestall more squabbling about other cabinet posts.

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